Photo by Tom "Big Bat" Fesolowich
More years ago than I care to remember, the Zinn family was able to purchase tickets for the then annual major league exhibition game played at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown as part of Hall of Fame induction weekend. The Montreal Expos were one of the two teams and the other might have been the Angels which shows the game itself didn't create any memorable moments, at least for me. What was, however, so impressive I've never forgotten it, was the atmosphere in Cooperstown that day, the village streets overflowing with people from all walks of life and parts of the country, united by their love of baseball. The shared passion was best exemplified by three Roman Catholic nuns in full habit, head to toe, each of them topping off their religious garb with a baseball hat and, yes, one of them was appropriately wearing an Angels cap. The experience moved Carol Zinn, for whom baseball is an acquired taste, to comment that Cooperstown that day was "Baseball America." It's exactly the same feeling I had this past weekend when the Flemington Neshanock were privileged to once again participate in the Gettysburg National 19th Century Base Ball Festival.
Photo by Mark Granieri
As they have since the inaugural event back in 2010, the Elkton Eclipse Club of Maryland did their usual fine job of hosting an expanded and enhanced weekend. This year some 22 clubs from ten different states arrived at the Schroeder's Farm, not far from Confederate Avenue in Gettyburg for two days of base ball and what has also become a vintage base ball reunion. Just the scheduling alone, arranging for so many teams to play four games over two days on five fields while balancing team travel needs, was a challenge that have would have won a tip of the hat from Charles Ebbets, that master of major league schedule making. The Eclipse's commitment to maximizing the number of participating teams plays an important part in making this a "Baseball America" experience. While the Gettysburg event has a narrower focus than the Hall of Fame induction, like that day in New York state, the weekend in southern Pennsylvania also brings together people from a wide range of locations and backgrounds, united by a passion for base ball history and shared values. Uppermost among those values, as I experienced them, were playing the game the way it should be played, playing to win while maintaining a respectful relationship with the opposition and heartfelt feelings of fellowship once the match was over.
Photo by Mark Granieri
First up for Flemington this year was the Monitor Club of Chelsea, Michigan, a team, if I remember correctly, which has been playing for about seven years and making its first visit to the festival. After setting the Monitors down without a run in the top of the first, the Neshanock tallied three times in their half, but had a hard time getting anything going offensively in the early innings. Flemington did add one run in the bottom of the third primarily because of the base running of Chris "Low Ball" Lowry, who after reaching base demonstrated how to advance on productive outs. Watching "Low Ball" do this, and not for the first time, I can understand how Henry Chadwick, in the early days of competitive base ball, came to put emphasis on a base runner's responsibility to make his own away around the bases. Fortunately, for the Neshanock, big innings in the fourth and seventh put the game out of reach and gave Flemington their first victory of the weekend. Offensively, Dave "Illinois" Harris, Chris "Side Show" Nunn and "Low Ball," led the way with three hits apiece while Danny "Lunch Time" Shaw and the Neshanock defense held the Monitor Club at bay.
Photo by Mark Granieri
While the Monitor Club was new to the Festival, the day's second opponent, the Talbot Fair Plays of Maryland were all too well known to the Neshanock. Just a few weeks earlier at Princeton, the teams split two games with Flemington earning their first victory over one of the country's top vintage clubs in many a year. Saturday figured to be a tough game and that expectation was more than met. Although Talbot scored once in the top of the first, outstanding Neshaock defense kept them off the score board for the next four innings led by sparkling plays by Rene "Mango" Marerro and "Illinois." Flemington scored once in the second and then added two in the fourth led by some fine base running by Dan "Sledge" Hammer. Although the Neshanock were ahead 3-1 going to the top of the sixth, Talbot finally broke through to tie the match at 3-3 before Flemington untied it in the bottom of the seventh, taking a 4-3 lead into the eighth. Talbot had its last four strikers heading to the line in their half of the eighth, but the Fair Plays quickly showed why they are such a good team. After the first two strikers reached safely on what were clearly intentionally well placed hits, the next batter went to the line with one goal, move the runners up, which was exactly what he did. With the table thus set, the last batter in the order delivered a clutch hit which put Talbot ahead to stay in what would ultimately be a 9-5 victory. It was by no means a case of Flemington losing, but rather Talbot rising to the occasion and winning. The Neshanock attack was led by "Sledge," "Mango," "Low Ball" and "Lunch Time" with two hits apiece.
Picture by Mark Granieri
Spared the early game on both days, the Neshanock arrived on Sunday morning for a match against the Providence Grays on another day of the nicest weather in the festival's history. The Providence club is somewhat unique in vintage circles as they recreate a major league team of the 1880's that, of course, played the overhand game, but the gentlemen from Rhode Island adapted to the 1860's rules for the festival. Unlike the rest of the Neshanock's games, this match turned into a hitting contest. Flemington tallied seven times in the fourth for a 10-4 lead, but Providence quickly answered with four of their own to close within 10-8 and it was 12-9 as Flemington batted in the bottom of the sixth. With two out, one on and none in, the chances of increasing the margin looked slim until five straight Neshanock strikers delivered two out hits, producing five runs and a 17-9 lead. Although Providence scored three of their own in the seventh, another big Neshanock inning put the game out of reach in route to a 25-13 Flemington victory, a much closer game than the score indicated. As might be expected a number of the Neshanock had big games with Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner, Mark "Gaslight" Granieri, "Tumbles " and "Illinois" delivering four hits apiece, with both "Gaslight" and "Tumbles" (yes, "Tumbles") earning clear scores.
Photo by Mark Granieri
In its fourth and final game of the festival, the Neshanock took on the Walker Tavern Wheels of Brooklyn, Michigan, another first time encounter for Flemington. The Michigan club's reputation had preceded them and the Neshanock went into the game anticipating a hard struggle which is exactly what they got in another relatively low scoring affair. After five innings the two clubs were tied at 5-5 in a game that featured some outstanding defense including such impressive catches by "Illinois" of the Neshanock and the Walker third base man that onlookers wondered if the two had pine tar or some other adhesive on their hands. Flemington managed to score four times in the sixth for a 9-6 lead, but Walker scored twice in the top of the seventh before the Neshanock closed the door. When Flemington couldn't add any tallies in its half of the seventh, the one run lead looked precarious. but the Michigan team went out in order in the eighth and the Neshanock added three more runs for a 12-8 lead. Then to, cap off the weekend, Flemington retired the Wheelman, quickly and without incident. Impressively, after Walker Tavern closed within two with one out in the seventh, Flemington set down the next eight strikers in order. It was a good win, over a worthy opponent. "Thumbs," "Mango," and "Illinois" each had three hits while "Sledge," Meshack "Shack" Desane and "Gaslight" had two apiece.
Photo by Mark Granieri
After dinner on Saturday night, Carol and I went to the "Songs and Stories of a Civil War Hospital" program at Christ Lutheran Church in the heart of Gettysburg. This was the sixth time we've attended the program and beforehand I was wondering why we needed to do it again. Listening, however to stories, some of them no less heart rendering for being heard year after year, I realized the program was an essential part of the weekend because it reminded us what is really important about Gettysburg. The Elkton Club does a fine job of organizing the event, but one of their most important contributions is their choice of venue. Like Cooperstown, Gettysburg has no real base ball significance, rather Gettysburg is important because of those "who here gave their lives, that that nation might live." Elkton has done everything and more to get us to Gettysburg, while there, I believe we all have a responsibility in some way to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice on that hallowed ground. Attending the Christ Lutheran program is one way to do that. Another is to visit some part of the battlefield, but perhaps most fitting would be for each club or a representative to visit the national cemetery and to spend a few moments paying their respects in the section where the men from their home state are buried. It would give even more meaning to what is already a memorable "Baseball America" experience.